London: President Vladimir Putin on Monday accused the West of trying to destroy Russia, demanding prosecutors take a tough line with what he cast as plots hatched by foreign spies to divide the country and discredit its armed forces.
Speaking to Russia’s top prosecutors and watched by his defence minister, Putin accused the West of inciting attacks on Russian journalists.
He said the main successor to the Soviet-era KGB, the Federal Security Service (FSB), had on Monday prevented a murder attempt by a “terrorist group” on one famous Russian TV journalist later named by state media as Vladimir Solovyev.
“They have moved to terror - to preparing the murder of our journalists,” Putin said of the West.
Solovyev is one of Russia’s most high-profile TV and radio journalists and the outspoken host of talk shows whose guests often denigrate Ukraine and justify Moscow’s actions there.
Putin, a former KGB spy who has ruled Russia as paramount leader since the last day of 1999, did not immediately provide evidence to support his statements and Reuters was unable to immediately verify the accusations.
Solovyev could not be immediately reached for comment.
Putin said the West had realised that Ukraine could not beat Russia in war so had moved to a different plan - the destruction of Russia itself.
“Another task has come to the fore: to split Russian society and destroy Russia from within,” Putin said. “It is not working.” Putin said foreign media organisations and social media had been used by the West’s spies to confect provocations against Russia’s armed forces.
Prosecutors should react swiftly to fake news and reports which undermined order, Putin said, without giving any specific examples.
“They are often mainly organised from abroad, organised in different ways - either the information comes from there or the money,” Putin said. Prosecutors should fight extremism “more actively,” Putin said.
Just days after ordering the war in Ukraine, Putin signed a law which imposes a jail term of up to 15 years for spreading intentionally “fake” news about the military.
Russia says the Western media have provided an excessively partial narrative of the war in Ukraine that largely ignores Moscow’s concerns about the enlargement of NATO and what it says is the persecution of Russian speakers in Ukraine.
Ukraine, which denies discrimination against Russian speakers, did not immediately respond to Putin’s statement.
The RIA state news agency said that members of a neo-nationalist far right group known as “National Socialism/White Power” had plotted to murder Solovyev at the behest of Ukraine.
Russia’s Feb. 24 war in Ukraine has killed thousands of people, displaced millions more and raised fears of a wider confrontation between Russia and the United States - by far the world’s two biggest nuclear powers.
Putin says the “special military operation” in Ukraine is necessary because the United States was using Ukraine to threaten Russia and Ukraine was guilty of the genocide of Russian-speaking people.
Ukraine says it is fighting a land grab by Russia and that Putin’s claims of genocide are nonsense.